The Insider's Guide to Chicago's Best Deep-Dish Pizza
Deep-dish pizza isn't just for Chicago tourists. Locals eat it too — judiciously, chowing down on the very best slices they've discovered in a lifetime of eating deep dish. These are the spots they dine at.
Pizano's, multiple locations
The original father of Chicago deep-dish pizza was Rudy Malnati Sr. of Pizzeria Uno. It turns out the apple indeed doesn't fall too far from the tree, as his son Rudy Jr., who owns this burgeoning local franchise, puts out the ideal modern version of the deep-dish form. The key here is a buttery, crisp crust that provides enough depth for the pies to qualify as deep dish but isn't so thick that it overwhelms the cheese and other ingredients.
Pequod's, two locations
The pie at Pequod's is not entirely a pure Chicago-style deep dish. It's more of a hybrid of Chicago style and the focaccia-like bread crust of Sicilian "grandma" pies. What's absolutely distinct and gives it the edge, literally, over other deep-dish comers is the halo of crispy blackened cheese that rims the outside of the pie. It looks like it's burnt, but it's just a deep caramelization that's nutty, smoky and better than any single ingredient you could top a pizza with.
Labriola (Chicago) and La Barra (Riverside and Oak Brook)
The sign of any great pizza is that the crust is so good that even the unadorned parts never get left on the plate. And that's what happens at Labriola and La Barra. Labriola got its start as a bread-baking concern and in the process produced artisanal-style loaves for some of Chicago's best restaurants. The owners took this bread-baking experience and created for the pizzas in their restaurant a deep-dish crust filled with airy bubbles, the kind you might find in a good croissant. As a result, even the most-carb-conscious diners will have a tough time leaving any part of the slice behind.
The crust here is a darker brown, almost mahogany color, a departure from the buttery golden crusts found on most deep-dish pizzas. The edges have the consistency of a well-toasted loaf of Italian bread. The sauce here has a pepperiness that makes you salivate, while the hunks of fennel-infused sausage put this pie over the top. Deep-dish pizza usually collapses on itself or exudes a ton of moisture and gets soggy during delivery, but for some reason My Pi's deep dish seems to hold up better than most. So if you need deep dish but can't leave your house or your hotel room, try ordering from this spot.
Chicago Pizza and Oven Grinder
The pizza at this spot isn't traditional Chicago deep dish, but it has a pastry-dough rim, shaped like a carved-out French boule, that's as high as anything you'd find at the usual places. The differentiator here is that the bottom crust is whisper-thin, and the interior is kind of like a casserole of winey, garlicky braised mushrooms, sausage and snappy green peppers, draped with a roof of bubbling mozzarella like one you'd find on a bowl of French onion soup.
If you want to taste the classic kind of deep-dish pizza from the 1960s that spawned the modern deep-dish imitators (who unfortunately have almost ruined the form by piling on cheese and insipid tomato sauces until you're left with tasteless gut bombs), Bartoli's is the place. The pie is thick, but the heft is tasteful. The golden crust has a cornlike perfume, and the thick, chunky sauce is lustrous and peppery.
Old World Pizza, Elmwood Park
Like so many of the other great deep dishes, Old World Pizza's has a high-sloped and thick end but a thin bottom, so the ratio of bread to cheese and sauce is balanced. The sauce has a sun-drenched essence and a savoriness that makes you want to keep shoving slices into your mouth long after you're full.
Louisa's is one of the few suburban options worth a drive from the city for deep dish. What make this pie tops is the universal layer of sweet and tangy sauce, the thicker, bread-style edge and the contrast of the crispy edge and the softer bottom.
Lou Malnati's, multiple locations
Lou, as you might have guessed, is the son of Rudy Malnati Sr., inventor of Chicago deep dish, and the brother of Rudy Jr., friendly competitor and owner of Pizano's. With over 50 locations in Chicago (plus three in Arizona), it's a good bet that wherever you are in the city, you can locate one of Lou's pizzerias. Even though this is a franchise, the pizzas have a level of consistency and quality that's much higher than popular tourist traps like Gino's and Giordano's. The zesty sauce and balanced use of cheese are what truly differentiate Lou's pies.